Brent Sams

Education: Ph.D. in Horticulture (University of Adelaide), Master of Geography (Virginia Tech), B.S. in Geography (University of North Alabama)  

The following profile was compiled by Brendan Vander Weil (Texas State University) for the Encoding Geography initiative. To learn more, visit: http://www.ncrge.org/encoding-geography/ 


Describe your job, employer, and the primary tasks you perform in your position.  

My current role as a Viticulture Research Scientist at E&J Gallo Winery is to design and execute research projects focused on understanding how fruit chemistry/quality change over time and space. I am interested in these changes from the within-vineyard scale to the regional scale. To accomplish this, I (with a lot of help from others) use a wide variety of field measurements (fruit zone light exposure, vine canopy temperature, soil cores, and many others), proximal sensing (electric conductivity, elevation mapping), and remote sensing (satellite, UAV, commercial aircraft). I spend a good deal of time analyzing how these measurements are connected.  

How has your education/background in geography prepared you for this position? 

The interaction of geography and computer science is essential for my role, along with many others in my department. At the project level, I work with different types of datasets that must be organized so that they can be analyzed and interpreted together. I rarely start any of this in GIS, but in a statistics package/program. I don’t have a background in computer science or coding/programming, but these have been very useful skills to develop. Once I have a product/model/application, it needs to be available for use by our stakeholders. This can be a dashboard, a database, or other digestible format which usually implies additional knowledge of other programs or applications. Probably the most specific use of geo-computation in my role is in the geostatistical analyses of grape samples collected from different densities and locations.  

What is an example of applying geography concepts and skills in order to analyze and solve problems in your work? 

Recently, we’ve been working on a project to combine data from multiple vineyards to add statistical robustness to the spatial analysis of low-density grape samples. To validate the method, we divided up the vineyards into fishnet grids to create a Monte Carlo simulation that would iterate through many different combinations of field samples based on their locations.  

What types of geographic questions did you ask and think about in your project? 

We were interested in how wine grape chemistry changed over time and space, and at specific locations from the within-vineyard scale to the regional or statewide scale; how farm management and the environment are connected; and how we could use all of these variables to make predictions about where to find the best fruit. All this information needed to be synthesized and made into something that could be analyzed by a computer. Sometimes in the quantitative analysis world we are faced with qualitative variables and how to incorporate things like, “How does this vineyard manager decide when and how much water to irrigate?.” These then need to be summarized into something we can include in a mathematical model.   

What types of data did you acquire to support your project?  

For this project, we were mostly interested in the chemistry of grapes processed in a lab after the sample location was tagged with a GPS unit. In a related project and at the same locations, we measured soil texture, the fraction of useful light into the fruit zone of the canopy, and yield.  

What types of content knowledge and skills (both geographic and more general) did you use to evaluate, process, and analyze the data you gathered for your project? 

Everything starts with the synthesis of what’s been done, where, and how. Experimental design and sampling strategies are also necessary. There are a lot of measurements specific to grapevines that we used, but general statistical knowledge was also necessary for writing reports, publications, etc. I use R and R Studio quite a bit, as well as several GIS applications with a bunch of different spatial analyses. One specific example is the use of k-means classification with raster datasets to assess patterns that exist between different layers such as interpolated chemistry maps with soil maps or imagery.   

How did you communicate the results of your project (e.g., writing technical reports, making maps and geo-visualizations, creating graphics, data tables, etc.)? Do you have a recent product or publication to share with us as an example?  

There will be a few publications from this data set, as well as reports to internal stakeholders. You can find those publications below:   

  • Sams, B., Bramley, R.G.V., Sanchez, L., Dokoozlian, N.K., Ford, C.M., and Pagay, V. (2022) Remote sensing, yield, physical characteristics, and fruit composition variability in Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards. American Journal of Enology and Viticulture 73, 93-105. 
  • Sams, B., Bramley, R., Sanchez, L., Dokoozlian, N., Ford, C. and Pagay, V. (2022) Characterising spatio-temporal variation in fruit composition for improved winegrowing management in California Cabernet Sauvignon. Australian Journal of Grape and Wine Research. https://doi.org/10.1111/ajgw.12542 
  • Sams, B., Bramley, R., Aboutalebi, M., Sanchez, L., Dokoozlian, N.K., Ford, C.M. and Pagay, V. (2022) Facilitating mapping and understanding of within-vineyard variation in fruit composition using data pooled from multiple vineyards. Australian Journal of Grape and Wine Research. https://doi.org/10.1111/ajgw.12556 

What are the criteria that you use to assess the quality of your results?  

I’m an applied researcher in the private sector, so while the publications are nice, I really want to know if something works. Does it help us do something, save us money, or even make us more money?


This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grants No. 2031418, 2031407, and 2031380 (Collaborative Research: Encoding Geography – Scaling up an RPP to achieve inclusive geocomputational education). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation 

 

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Tracy Whelen

Education: M.S. in Geography (University of South Carolina), B.A. in Geography (Mount Holyoke College)  

The following profile was compiled by Brendan Vander Weil (Texas State University) for the Encoding Geography initiative. To learn more, visit: http://www.ncrge.org/encoding-geography/ 

 


Please describe your job, employer, and the primary tasks you perform in your position. 

I am a Geospatial Consultant and participant in the Business Insights & Analytics Leadership Development Program at Travelers Insurance. Travelers is a leading property and casualty insurance company, offering a wide range of personal and business insurance products primarily in the United States and Canada. 

I recently completed an enterprise rotation in Enterprise Data & Analytics, working on data management and quality assessment of enterprise geospatial datasets and ad-hoc geospatial business consulting requests.   

I am currently in a rotation for Claim Business Intelligence & Analytics. My work includes geospatial information delivery and analysis for Claim senior leadership and field offices. Part catastrophe response, part improving everyday claim handling processes.  

Prior to joining Travelers, I received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in geography (Mount Holyoke College and University of South Carolina, respectively). In between my degrees I worked as a GIS Specialist in a remote sensing lab at University of Massachusetts, Amherst.  

How has your education/background in geography prepared you for this position? 

All the data I work with has a spatial component to it, and we often work with thousands (sometimes millions) of records at a time, necessitating strong geography and computer science skills to efficiently store, process, and analyze data, and to deliver actionable outputs.  

Relevant courses from my education that I use today in my job include: 

Geography 

  • GIS/spatial analysis (intro and advanced)  
  • Remote sensing 
  • Spatial modeling  
  • Web GIS  
  • Basic human and physical geography 
  • Electives: Meteorology, hazards geography, business geography 

Computer Science 

  • Introductory scripting (if statements, loops, functions, etc.) 
  • Python 
  • SQL 
  • Data structures 
  • UI/UX design 
  • Javascript (web app development)  

Math 

  • Discrete math (basic logic and set theory)  
  • Statistics (non-spatial and spatial) 

What geographic skills and information do you use most often in your work?  

Geographic concepts that I use in my daily work are important for things such as asking what business problems have a spatial component to them or analyzing the spatial relationship between two or more datasets (e.g. spatial joins and other geospatial analysis). I also need to understand a wide variety of spatial data formats, how to convert between them, and what formats are most appropriate for a given use case (e.g. basic raster and vector formats, enterprise SQL databases, APIs, published feature services, etc.). Finally, I need to know when to use geographic coordinates versus a projection (and what an appropriate projection might be).  

What is an example of applying geography concepts and skills in order to analyze and solve problems in your work? 

One of the many risks Travelers seeks to mitigate are natural hazard events, such as wildfires and hurricanes that climate change may make more extreme. Sustainability at Travelers means performing today, transforming for tomorrow and fulfilling our promise to our customers, communities and employees. Where these two come together is how our Claims department responds to natural hazard events, especially large wildfires or damaging wind events. The following videos capture the spirit of what we do, and the geospatial component of Claims catastrophe response. 

 

Note that Travelers is organized along an Agile structure, with cross-functional teams continuously delivering improvements. While there are always new products and applications being developed, there are also lots of long-term operational systems being continuously used and improved upon. Often employees build on past work and may not see a large project or system from beginning to end. My team’s catastrophe response work is an example of this type of long-term system, and my answers are on behalf of the team.  

What types of geographic questions did you ask and think about in your project? 

The broad business question underlying this issue is, “How can we optimally respond to catastrophe events, meeting customer needs with the most efficient use of business resources?” Underlying questions include: 

  • What location has been/will be impacted? 
  • What is our exposure in the area? (i.e. number of policies, associated financial exposure) 
  • Where have claims already been reported? 
  • How many claims might we expect? 
  • What types of claims do we expect to see from this event? (e.g., wind, water, fire, etc.) 
  • What types of damage occurred, and how severe is the damage? 
    • Will this impact our ability to respond, either because an area is inaccessible or because local offices or employee homes have been damaged? 
  • Where can we acquire the necessary data from? 
  • Can we develop models to more efficiently review post-event imagery as part of the catastrophe response process? 
    • If so, what features are we trying to spot in the imagery?  
    • How does this vary by event type? 
    • What might be appropriate modeling algorithms to use? 
    • What are some of the challenges the model might encounter? 

My team does not directly answer all these questions, but we need to be able to provide appropriate data to the senior leadership and other decision makers or support staff who can build a final answer.  

What types of data did you acquire to support your project? 

  • Business data (e.g. claims, policies) 
  • Event data – wildfire boundaries, hurricane wind footprints, precipitation measurements, tornado damage reports, etc. 
  • Aerial imagery and derived model output 
  • Property geometry data (e.g. building footprints, parcel boundaries)

What types of content knowledge and skills (both geographic and more general) did you use to evaluate, process, and analyze the data you gathered for your project? 

In the moment skills that we use on this project for responding to a single catastrophe event include: 

  • Querying databases (spatial and nonspatial joins, filters) 
  • Combining and reformatting a variety of data formats  
  • Running models in python scripts 
  • Common sense/data quality checks 

For long-term projects, the output of which gets used in catastrophe response (multiple team effort), the skills we use are: 

  • Internal model development in partnership with data scientists  
    • Curate input data (image locations, image clipping geometry, training data, etc.) using SQL and python 
    • Evaluating model results against other sources of truth 
  • Evaluating new 3rd party datasets (accuracy, timeliness, availability, cost, other potential sources for the same information)

How did you communicate the results of your project (e.g., writing technical reports, making maps and geo-visualizations, creating graphics, data tables, etc.)? Do you have a recent product or publication to share with us as an example? 

We publish web GIS content as both data layers and maps, creating different versions for different user groups in order to control access to sensitive information. We also use frequent email communication, whether it is one on one, small group with specific questions and answers, or larger list-serv communications (with standardized templates) at key time points during catastrophe response (e.g. web map published, imagery collected, etc.). Additionally, we communicate results through spatial SQL data pulls (tabular format)  

See the below list for examples of broader enterprise or external communications about projects and programs mentioned in this interview. 

  • Travelers 2021 Q3 Earnings call. Note CEO Alan Schnitzer’s introductory remarks including, “location intelligence at the parcel level” and our “AI Assisted Claim Damage Detection Model was a key part of our Ida claim response” 
  • Interview of Adam Sobek (Travelers AVP of Geospatial) at NearMap Navig8 Conference 2020 (Travelers’ use of imagery, including for catastrophe events) 

What are the criteria that you use to assess the quality of your results?   

Most important criterium: Has the business need been met?  

Other important criteria: 

  • Validate data quality 
  • Spatial scale and level of accuracy  
  • Minimizing false negatives, minimizing false positives.  
  • Minimizing process (time, number of steps)

The business need at hand dictates which criteria are important, which varies from question to question. Examples include: 

  • Level of address accuracy needed to plot individual policies versus summarize at a zip code level 
  • Some analytics results are only valuable if they can be completed faster than more manual processes out in the field. 

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grants No. 2031418, 2031407, and 2031380 (Collaborative Research: Encoding Geography – Scaling up an RPP to achieve inclusive geocomputational education). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation 

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Member Profile: Tim Fullman

Map showing Arctic Refuge Birds-Eye-View program area created by Marty Schnure

The twice-annual migration of Alaska’s caribou is one of the world’s great journeys. Yet the number of caribou making that trek has been declining for decades due to a variety of factors, including habitat disruption from human activities and a changing environment.

Photo of Tim FullmanGeographer Tim Fullman, senior ecologist with The Wilderness Society, is one of the people working to understand how to conserve the critical habitat on which caribou rely. Using analyses drawn from spatial and interdisciplinary sources, Fullman tracks and predicts herd patterns as they move over Alaska’s public lands. Much of his research focuses on the Western Arctic Caribou Herd (WACH), among the biggest of the state’s 32 caribou herds.

Arctic Refuge Coastal Plain: A Narrow Margin The geography of the Brooks Range creates a natural bottleneck in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, where the coastal plain and foothills are much narrower than in the central and western Arctic. Oil development in the already-constrained coastal plain and foothills of the Arctic Refuge would leave little or no room for the Porcupine Caribou Herd and other species to shift.
Arctic Refuge Coastal Plain: A Narrow Margin: The geography of the Brooks Range creates a natural bottleneck in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, where the coastal plain and foothills are much narrower than in the central and western Arctic. Oil development in the already-constrained coastal plain and foothills of the Arctic Refuge would leave little or no room for the Porcupine Caribou Herd and other species to shift. Map created by Marty Schnure

 

Fullman works alongside many partners, from Indigenous community leaders to hunters to tour guides to local, state, and federal wildlife and land professionals. All share a common cause: to preserve the future of Alaska’s caribou in the face of potential impacts from construction projects, energy investments, and climate change. The stakes are high. Alaska’s caribou, once totaling over a million, number 750,000 altogether today. The WACH, alone, has declined by as much as 50 percent since 2004.

In his work, Fullman spends a lot of his time using predictive models, forecasting potential impacts and scenarios that he says are also intimately connected to what we know about now and the past. “To do effective conservation means understanding the past so that we know why things are the way they are now,” he says, “and then using that information now to change the course of the future.”

Geography: The Critical Lens

Starting his career as a wildlife biologist, Fullman discovered that his fieldwork would benefit from an advanced understanding of terrain, place, and migrations. After completing a PhD in geography at the University of Florida, he returned to his work studying large herbivores, this time in Alaska. (Previous research had taken him to southern Africa, where he studied elephants).

Now, he says, his geography expertise takes people by surprise. “In my professional role, I don’t think many people know that I am a geographer, because my title is senior ecologist, and people think of me doing wildlife work,” he says. “Yet I’ve been fascinated as I’ve interacted with more people to come across a number of people with geography backgrounds who are doing work in landscape, ecology, environmental policy, and similar work.”

Why are so many geographers drawn to conservation—or rather, why are many conservationists drawn to geography? “This training seems like it has prepared a number of us to be able to make connections and share, and especially to use maps and other representations to talk about and communicate things in ways that connect with people.”

Geography’s interdisciplinary nature is also a plus: “One of the things that has helped me is that my geography department did not focus a lot on wildlife, but I had colleagues doing human dynamics, economic geography, all sorts of things that fall under the umbrella of geography. I think that prepared me to understand how social science is done, to understand how economics is done, and yet to see the connections where spatial processes and things that happen at space and scale and time influence across all these areas. I think of that as being at the core of geography and what we do.”

Birds-eye view of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain, known as the 1002 Area, outlined in yellow. This area, which is a critical calving and post-calving habitat for the Porcupine Caribou Herd, was leased by the Bureau of Land Management for its oil and gas program during the Trump Administration. Map created by Marty Schnure
Birds-eye view of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain, known as the 1002 Area, outlined in yellow. This area, which is a critical calving and post-calving habitat for the Porcupine Caribou Herd, was leased by the Bureau of Land Management for its oil and gas program during the Trump Administration. Map created by Marty Schnure

 

Fullman applies ideas and methods from other disciplines to aid in his modeling work. One of these is circuit theory, adapted by ecologists from the world of electronics, which recently helped Fullman and his colleagues model the impacts of road construction on caribou and other species’ habitat. Another tool is the Monte Carlo simulation, used by Fullman and other researchers to test development restriction scenarios for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A): four from the Bureau of Land Management’s current Integrated Activity Plan, and one put forward by the Western Arctic Caribou Herd Working Group, to which Fullman belongs.

Map showing caribou seasonal ranges and proposed development projects created by Marty Schnure
Map showing caribou seasonal ranges and proposed development projects, created by Marty Schnure

 

Fullman’s training as a geographer has helped him embrace the many perspectives and complex realities of Alaskan habitats. In studying the ancient presence and fragile present of the caribou, he recognizes the long lineage and millennia-old knowledge held by the Indigenous communities within and around the NPR-A. As he brings new tools to the study of the herds, he embraces opportunities to learn and follow traditional ecological knowledge. “I am very classically trained as a scientist but yet through my time in Alaska, it has stretched my view,” he says. “What does it look like to meaningfully combine and blend all the ways of seeing the caribou?”

“Caribou Tell Us a Little Bit About Ourselves”

Fullman’s work contributes to understanding the pressure on caribou, which is part of a much larger and concerning trend of long-range and major migrations of all species—and humans.

“Caribou tell us a little bit about ourselves. They face some of the same challenges we do: warming climate, increasing development, and changing habitat – but with arctic temperatures increasing at double the rate of the rest of the planet, they’re feeling these challenges first,” says Fullman.

“Are we willing in any place to curb our desire to develop?” he asks “There are some places that are too important and too special.”

Find out more about AAG’s work to address climate change
    Share

Member Profile: Lesley-Ann Dupigny-Giroux

Map showing Arctic Refuge Birds-Eye-View program area created by Marty Schnure

The twice-annual migration of Alaska’s caribou is one of the world’s great journeys. Yet the number of caribou making that trek has been declining for decades due to a variety of factors, including habitat disruption from human activities and a changing environment.

Photo of Tim FullmanGeographer Tim Fullman, senior ecologist with The Wilderness Society, is one of the people working to understand how to conserve the critical habitat on which caribou rely. Using analyses drawn from spatial and interdisciplinary sources, Fullman tracks and predicts herd patterns as they move over Alaska’s public lands. Much of his research focuses on the Western Arctic Caribou Herd (WACH), among the biggest of the state’s 32 caribou herds.

Arctic Refuge Coastal Plain: A Narrow Margin The geography of the Brooks Range creates a natural bottleneck in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, where the coastal plain and foothills are much narrower than in the central and western Arctic. Oil development in the already-constrained coastal plain and foothills of the Arctic Refuge would leave little or no room for the Porcupine Caribou Herd and other species to shift.
Arctic Refuge Coastal Plain: A Narrow Margin: The geography of the Brooks Range creates a natural bottleneck in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, where the coastal plain and foothills are much narrower than in the central and western Arctic. Oil development in the already-constrained coastal plain and foothills of the Arctic Refuge would leave little or no room for the Porcupine Caribou Herd and other species to shift. Map created by Marty Schnure

 

Fullman works alongside many partners, from Indigenous community leaders to hunters to tour guides to local, state, and federal wildlife and land professionals. All share a common cause: to preserve the future of Alaska’s caribou in the face of potential impacts from construction projects, energy investments, and climate change. The stakes are high. Alaska’s caribou, once totaling over a million, number 750,000 altogether today. The WACH, alone, has declined by as much as 50 percent since 2004.

In his work, Fullman spends a lot of his time using predictive models, forecasting potential impacts and scenarios that he says are also intimately connected to what we know about now and the past. “To do effective conservation means understanding the past so that we know why things are the way they are now,” he says, “and then using that information now to change the course of the future.”

Geography: The Critical Lens

Starting his career as a wildlife biologist, Fullman discovered that his fieldwork would benefit from an advanced understanding of terrain, place, and migrations. After completing a PhD in geography at the University of Florida, he returned to his work studying large herbivores, this time in Alaska. (Previous research had taken him to southern Africa, where he studied elephants).

Now, he says, his geography expertise takes people by surprise. “In my professional role, I don’t think many people know that I am a geographer, because my title is senior ecologist, and people think of me doing wildlife work,” he says. “Yet I’ve been fascinated as I’ve interacted with more people to come across a number of people with geography backgrounds who are doing work in landscape, ecology, environmental policy, and similar work.”

Why are so many geographers drawn to conservation—or rather, why are many conservationists drawn to geography? “This training seems like it has prepared a number of us to be able to make connections and share, and especially to use maps and other representations to talk about and communicate things in ways that connect with people.”

Geography’s interdisciplinary nature is also a plus: “One of the things that has helped me is that my geography department did not focus a lot on wildlife, but I had colleagues doing human dynamics, economic geography, all sorts of things that fall under the umbrella of geography. I think that prepared me to understand how social science is done, to understand how economics is done, and yet to see the connections where spatial processes and things that happen at space and scale and time influence across all these areas. I think of that as being at the core of geography and what we do.”

Birds-eye view of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain, known as the 1002 Area, outlined in yellow. This area, which is a critical calving and post-calving habitat for the Porcupine Caribou Herd, was leased by the Bureau of Land Management for its oil and gas program during the Trump Administration. Map created by Marty Schnure
Birds-eye view of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain, known as the 1002 Area, outlined in yellow. This area, which is a critical calving and post-calving habitat for the Porcupine Caribou Herd, was leased by the Bureau of Land Management for its oil and gas program during the Trump Administration. Map created by Marty Schnure

 

Fullman applies ideas and methods from other disciplines to aid in his modeling work. One of these is circuit theory, adapted by ecologists from the world of electronics, which recently helped Fullman and his colleagues model the impacts of road construction on caribou and other species’ habitat. Another tool is the Monte Carlo simulation, used by Fullman and other researchers to test development restriction scenarios for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A): four from the Bureau of Land Management’s current Integrated Activity Plan, and one put forward by the Western Arctic Caribou Herd Working Group, to which Fullman belongs.

Map showing caribou seasonal ranges and proposed development projects created by Marty Schnure
Map showing caribou seasonal ranges and proposed development projects, created by Marty Schnure

 

Fullman’s training as a geographer has helped him embrace the many perspectives and complex realities of Alaskan habitats. In studying the ancient presence and fragile present of the caribou, he recognizes the long lineage and millennia-old knowledge held by the Indigenous communities within and around the NPR-A. As he brings new tools to the study of the herds, he embraces opportunities to learn and follow traditional ecological knowledge. “I am very classically trained as a scientist but yet through my time in Alaska, it has stretched my view,” he says. “What does it look like to meaningfully combine and blend all the ways of seeing the caribou?”

“Caribou Tell Us a Little Bit About Ourselves”

Fullman’s work contributes to understanding the pressure on caribou, which is part of a much larger and concerning trend of long-range and major migrations of all species—and humans.

“Caribou tell us a little bit about ourselves. They face some of the same challenges we do: warming climate, increasing development, and changing habitat – but with arctic temperatures increasing at double the rate of the rest of the planet, they’re feeling these challenges first,” says Fullman.

“Are we willing in any place to curb our desire to develop?” he asks “There are some places that are too important and too special.”

Find out more about AAG’s work to address climate change
    Share

Wayfinding: Finding Heat Vulnerability Before It’s Too Late

Map showing Arctic Refuge Birds-Eye-View program area created by Marty Schnure

The twice-annual migration of Alaska’s caribou is one of the world’s great journeys. Yet the number of caribou making that trek has been declining for decades due to a variety of factors, including habitat disruption from human activities and a changing environment.

Photo of Tim FullmanGeographer Tim Fullman, senior ecologist with The Wilderness Society, is one of the people working to understand how to conserve the critical habitat on which caribou rely. Using analyses drawn from spatial and interdisciplinary sources, Fullman tracks and predicts herd patterns as they move over Alaska’s public lands. Much of his research focuses on the Western Arctic Caribou Herd (WACH), among the biggest of the state’s 32 caribou herds.

Arctic Refuge Coastal Plain: A Narrow Margin The geography of the Brooks Range creates a natural bottleneck in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, where the coastal plain and foothills are much narrower than in the central and western Arctic. Oil development in the already-constrained coastal plain and foothills of the Arctic Refuge would leave little or no room for the Porcupine Caribou Herd and other species to shift.
Arctic Refuge Coastal Plain: A Narrow Margin: The geography of the Brooks Range creates a natural bottleneck in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, where the coastal plain and foothills are much narrower than in the central and western Arctic. Oil development in the already-constrained coastal plain and foothills of the Arctic Refuge would leave little or no room for the Porcupine Caribou Herd and other species to shift. Map created by Marty Schnure

 

Fullman works alongside many partners, from Indigenous community leaders to hunters to tour guides to local, state, and federal wildlife and land professionals. All share a common cause: to preserve the future of Alaska’s caribou in the face of potential impacts from construction projects, energy investments, and climate change. The stakes are high. Alaska’s caribou, once totaling over a million, number 750,000 altogether today. The WACH, alone, has declined by as much as 50 percent since 2004.

In his work, Fullman spends a lot of his time using predictive models, forecasting potential impacts and scenarios that he says are also intimately connected to what we know about now and the past. “To do effective conservation means understanding the past so that we know why things are the way they are now,” he says, “and then using that information now to change the course of the future.”

Geography: The Critical Lens

Starting his career as a wildlife biologist, Fullman discovered that his fieldwork would benefit from an advanced understanding of terrain, place, and migrations. After completing a PhD in geography at the University of Florida, he returned to his work studying large herbivores, this time in Alaska. (Previous research had taken him to southern Africa, where he studied elephants).

Now, he says, his geography expertise takes people by surprise. “In my professional role, I don’t think many people know that I am a geographer, because my title is senior ecologist, and people think of me doing wildlife work,” he says. “Yet I’ve been fascinated as I’ve interacted with more people to come across a number of people with geography backgrounds who are doing work in landscape, ecology, environmental policy, and similar work.”

Why are so many geographers drawn to conservation—or rather, why are many conservationists drawn to geography? “This training seems like it has prepared a number of us to be able to make connections and share, and especially to use maps and other representations to talk about and communicate things in ways that connect with people.”

Geography’s interdisciplinary nature is also a plus: “One of the things that has helped me is that my geography department did not focus a lot on wildlife, but I had colleagues doing human dynamics, economic geography, all sorts of things that fall under the umbrella of geography. I think that prepared me to understand how social science is done, to understand how economics is done, and yet to see the connections where spatial processes and things that happen at space and scale and time influence across all these areas. I think of that as being at the core of geography and what we do.”

Birds-eye view of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain, known as the 1002 Area, outlined in yellow. This area, which is a critical calving and post-calving habitat for the Porcupine Caribou Herd, was leased by the Bureau of Land Management for its oil and gas program during the Trump Administration. Map created by Marty Schnure
Birds-eye view of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain, known as the 1002 Area, outlined in yellow. This area, which is a critical calving and post-calving habitat for the Porcupine Caribou Herd, was leased by the Bureau of Land Management for its oil and gas program during the Trump Administration. Map created by Marty Schnure

 

Fullman applies ideas and methods from other disciplines to aid in his modeling work. One of these is circuit theory, adapted by ecologists from the world of electronics, which recently helped Fullman and his colleagues model the impacts of road construction on caribou and other species’ habitat. Another tool is the Monte Carlo simulation, used by Fullman and other researchers to test development restriction scenarios for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A): four from the Bureau of Land Management’s current Integrated Activity Plan, and one put forward by the Western Arctic Caribou Herd Working Group, to which Fullman belongs.

Map showing caribou seasonal ranges and proposed development projects created by Marty Schnure
Map showing caribou seasonal ranges and proposed development projects, created by Marty Schnure

 

Fullman’s training as a geographer has helped him embrace the many perspectives and complex realities of Alaskan habitats. In studying the ancient presence and fragile present of the caribou, he recognizes the long lineage and millennia-old knowledge held by the Indigenous communities within and around the NPR-A. As he brings new tools to the study of the herds, he embraces opportunities to learn and follow traditional ecological knowledge. “I am very classically trained as a scientist but yet through my time in Alaska, it has stretched my view,” he says. “What does it look like to meaningfully combine and blend all the ways of seeing the caribou?”

“Caribou Tell Us a Little Bit About Ourselves”

Fullman’s work contributes to understanding the pressure on caribou, which is part of a much larger and concerning trend of long-range and major migrations of all species—and humans.

“Caribou tell us a little bit about ourselves. They face some of the same challenges we do: warming climate, increasing development, and changing habitat – but with arctic temperatures increasing at double the rate of the rest of the planet, they’re feeling these challenges first,” says Fullman.

“Are we willing in any place to curb our desire to develop?” he asks “There are some places that are too important and too special.”

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Wayfinding: Young Geographers Unearth Clue to Climate Change in the Andes

Map showing Arctic Refuge Birds-Eye-View program area created by Marty Schnure

The twice-annual migration of Alaska’s caribou is one of the world’s great journeys. Yet the number of caribou making that trek has been declining for decades due to a variety of factors, including habitat disruption from human activities and a changing environment.

Photo of Tim FullmanGeographer Tim Fullman, senior ecologist with The Wilderness Society, is one of the people working to understand how to conserve the critical habitat on which caribou rely. Using analyses drawn from spatial and interdisciplinary sources, Fullman tracks and predicts herd patterns as they move over Alaska’s public lands. Much of his research focuses on the Western Arctic Caribou Herd (WACH), among the biggest of the state’s 32 caribou herds.

Arctic Refuge Coastal Plain: A Narrow Margin The geography of the Brooks Range creates a natural bottleneck in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, where the coastal plain and foothills are much narrower than in the central and western Arctic. Oil development in the already-constrained coastal plain and foothills of the Arctic Refuge would leave little or no room for the Porcupine Caribou Herd and other species to shift.
Arctic Refuge Coastal Plain: A Narrow Margin: The geography of the Brooks Range creates a natural bottleneck in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, where the coastal plain and foothills are much narrower than in the central and western Arctic. Oil development in the already-constrained coastal plain and foothills of the Arctic Refuge would leave little or no room for the Porcupine Caribou Herd and other species to shift. Map created by Marty Schnure

 

Fullman works alongside many partners, from Indigenous community leaders to hunters to tour guides to local, state, and federal wildlife and land professionals. All share a common cause: to preserve the future of Alaska’s caribou in the face of potential impacts from construction projects, energy investments, and climate change. The stakes are high. Alaska’s caribou, once totaling over a million, number 750,000 altogether today. The WACH, alone, has declined by as much as 50 percent since 2004.

In his work, Fullman spends a lot of his time using predictive models, forecasting potential impacts and scenarios that he says are also intimately connected to what we know about now and the past. “To do effective conservation means understanding the past so that we know why things are the way they are now,” he says, “and then using that information now to change the course of the future.”

Geography: The Critical Lens

Starting his career as a wildlife biologist, Fullman discovered that his fieldwork would benefit from an advanced understanding of terrain, place, and migrations. After completing a PhD in geography at the University of Florida, he returned to his work studying large herbivores, this time in Alaska. (Previous research had taken him to southern Africa, where he studied elephants).

Now, he says, his geography expertise takes people by surprise. “In my professional role, I don’t think many people know that I am a geographer, because my title is senior ecologist, and people think of me doing wildlife work,” he says. “Yet I’ve been fascinated as I’ve interacted with more people to come across a number of people with geography backgrounds who are doing work in landscape, ecology, environmental policy, and similar work.”

Why are so many geographers drawn to conservation—or rather, why are many conservationists drawn to geography? “This training seems like it has prepared a number of us to be able to make connections and share, and especially to use maps and other representations to talk about and communicate things in ways that connect with people.”

Geography’s interdisciplinary nature is also a plus: “One of the things that has helped me is that my geography department did not focus a lot on wildlife, but I had colleagues doing human dynamics, economic geography, all sorts of things that fall under the umbrella of geography. I think that prepared me to understand how social science is done, to understand how economics is done, and yet to see the connections where spatial processes and things that happen at space and scale and time influence across all these areas. I think of that as being at the core of geography and what we do.”

Birds-eye view of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain, known as the 1002 Area, outlined in yellow. This area, which is a critical calving and post-calving habitat for the Porcupine Caribou Herd, was leased by the Bureau of Land Management for its oil and gas program during the Trump Administration. Map created by Marty Schnure
Birds-eye view of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain, known as the 1002 Area, outlined in yellow. This area, which is a critical calving and post-calving habitat for the Porcupine Caribou Herd, was leased by the Bureau of Land Management for its oil and gas program during the Trump Administration. Map created by Marty Schnure

 

Fullman applies ideas and methods from other disciplines to aid in his modeling work. One of these is circuit theory, adapted by ecologists from the world of electronics, which recently helped Fullman and his colleagues model the impacts of road construction on caribou and other species’ habitat. Another tool is the Monte Carlo simulation, used by Fullman and other researchers to test development restriction scenarios for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A): four from the Bureau of Land Management’s current Integrated Activity Plan, and one put forward by the Western Arctic Caribou Herd Working Group, to which Fullman belongs.

Map showing caribou seasonal ranges and proposed development projects created by Marty Schnure
Map showing caribou seasonal ranges and proposed development projects, created by Marty Schnure

 

Fullman’s training as a geographer has helped him embrace the many perspectives and complex realities of Alaskan habitats. In studying the ancient presence and fragile present of the caribou, he recognizes the long lineage and millennia-old knowledge held by the Indigenous communities within and around the NPR-A. As he brings new tools to the study of the herds, he embraces opportunities to learn and follow traditional ecological knowledge. “I am very classically trained as a scientist but yet through my time in Alaska, it has stretched my view,” he says. “What does it look like to meaningfully combine and blend all the ways of seeing the caribou?”

“Caribou Tell Us a Little Bit About Ourselves”

Fullman’s work contributes to understanding the pressure on caribou, which is part of a much larger and concerning trend of long-range and major migrations of all species—and humans.

“Caribou tell us a little bit about ourselves. They face some of the same challenges we do: warming climate, increasing development, and changing habitat – but with arctic temperatures increasing at double the rate of the rest of the planet, they’re feeling these challenges first,” says Fullman.

“Are we willing in any place to curb our desire to develop?” he asks “There are some places that are too important and too special.”

Find out more about AAG’s work to address climate change
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On the Map: The Wry Smile of Sable Island

Picture of Sable Island in an atlas.
Picture of Sable Island in an atlas.

When you next find yourself moving your eyes or navigating a finger across a map of the Northwest Atlantic, you may be in for a surprise. About 175 km southeast of Nova Scotia, a seam appears on the surface of the ocean and opens up, ever-so-slightly, into a wry smile. 

An adjacent label should offer a name: Sable Island.

 

Sable Island pictured in an atlas in isolation.
Sable Island pictured in an atlas in isolation.

 

Really? Can we be sure about this? The island is an anomaly, way out in the Atlantic, and there is nothing nearby that seems to justify its existence, geologically speaking. So it’s hard not to wonder about its position on the map, and its presence in the physical world. 

It is tempting to imagine that the island’s unusually graceful outline might indicate the presence of a clever cartographer — one who has inserted a fictitious landmass in the Atlantic to suss out copycat mapmakers. There are precedents for such behavior on land after all: Ever heard of a “trap street”?

But a quick internet search confirms that Sable Island does exist. It is a place of sand, wind, waves, a single Scots pine (the only survivor of more than 80,000 trees planted since 1900), and feral horses, among other things. 

Map of Sable Island
Map of Sable Island.

 

Looking closer, Sable Island yields quirks far better than any tricky mapmaker could. For starters, it looks like a barrier island but is located much further from the coastline than typical barrier islands. It likely formed from a terminal moraine — a mass of rocks and sediment carried down and deposited by a glacier, — sometime during the last Ice Age. That origin story may also help to explain the unexpected stability of some of the island’s dune structures. 

Over the last several centuries, Sable Island has also been notorious for attracting shipwrecks. Some 350 ships have succumbed to the sand bars, thick fog, and difficult currents characteristic of the area. Most of their remains have been crushed by waves and buried in the sand, making a full census impossible.

 

Sable Island map showing the location of the known wrecks upon the island
Sable Island map showing the location of the known wrecks upon the island.


Despite challenges of navigating to and from Sable Island, a rich history of research began there in 1871 with establishment of the Meteorological Service of Canada. Since then, research has expanded to include studies of climate, geomagnetism, and ecology. 

In 2013, Sable Island became protected as a National Park Reserve with the approval of Mi’kmaq stakeholders. Full national park status has yet to be achieved, pending settlement of Indigenous Peoples’ land claims within the Made in Nova Scotia Process. 

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Physical Geography and the AAG

Geography is the quintessential interdisciplinary discipline — or, as AAG past president Mona Domosh has described it, a ‘promiscuous discipline,’ an undisciplined discipline — a radically intradisciplinary discipline. For someone like myself whose research is in human and nature-society geography, this means that my work is in conversation not only with that of other geographers, but also in some cases with the work of anthropologists and sociologists, and with those in other interdisciplinary fields like environmental studies, development studies, and even religious studies. My colleagues in Geographic Information Science collaborate with computer scientists and applied mathematicians, among others. And physical geographers — including geomorphologists, climatologists, biogeographers, hydrologists, and soil scientists — read and want their work read not only by geographers but also by geologists, ecologists, atmospheric scientists, civil engineers, and aerospace engineers. If all these other disciplines are the spokes, geography imagines itself as the hub, with porous boundaries but shared concerns, whether about the relationship between humans and the earth’s surface, about space-time, about scale, or about the manifold human and physical landscapes of the earth.

In this arrangement, many Geography departments thrive in producing research and teaching students. And yet, I believe there are some questions we need to ask about the positionality of physical geographers within the discipline, and the role of AAG in serving the needs of all geographers.

Consider this. A 2015 survey of the AAG membership, current and lapsed, found that of those who responded, only 13.7% identified physical geography as their primary focus (compared to 51.6% human geography). Similarly, a 2020 survey by AAG found that of academics, 20% identified physical geography as their primary field (vs. 57% human geography) and only 17% of students identified physical geography as their primary field. This is down considerably from 1979, when Melvin Marcus noted that 36% of members were physical geographers.

In my own department, almost all physical geographers attend the American Geophysical Union (AGU) meeting every year – and the AAG only every few years, if at all. With over 25,000 attendees every year now, AGU’s meeting has rapidly become the preeminent conference for earth and environmental scientists of all stripes. Given limitations of time and dollars (not to mention the carbon costs of conference travel), most of us cannot afford to travel to more than one major conference a year, and for physical geographers, the choice is increasingly AGU over AAG (or for that matter, in some cases, also over the Ecological Society of America (ESA) or the Geological Society of America (GSA) meetings). As AGU, which boasts 60,000 members, gets larger and larger, it is no wonder that it has become a center of gravity for many current research specializations of physical geographers, who by and large identify with the rise of Earth System Science as an integrative approach to the geosciences. As circles of scientists move towards a conference, special sessions, invited talks, side meetings, and other events draw a critical mass of researchers, who often attend as much to see those colleagues as to give talks.

Similarly, for the discipline’s flagship journal in the United States, the Annals of the American Association of Geographers, the percentage of submissions to the “Physical Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences” section has decreased over time. Data from 2014 to 2020 show that on average, physical geography articles constituted about 9% of total new manuscripts and 11% of total accepted manuscripts. Things were not always thus. When the AAG was founded in 1904, physical geography dominated the organization and the field; indeed, at that time geography itself was often equated with physical geography, and specifically, geomorphology (Marcus 1979Rhoads 2004Aspinall 2010).  From 1911-1923 articles in physical geography accounted for between 50-100% of those published in the Annals. There was a significant dip in the prominence of physical geography from the mid-1920s to the early 1950s, followed by a revival from the 1960s to 1980s that coincided with the increasing specialization of and creation of journals for subfields within physical geography. Writing in 2004, Bruce Rhoads stated that from about 1923 to 2004, the long-term average was 21% physical geography articles in the Annals.

The relatively low percentage of physical geography articles in journals of the AAG relative to the number of physical geographers teaching and researching in Geography departments is thus by no means new. However, it has been exacerbated over the past two decades by the proliferation of scholarly journals, the increasing specialization of research areas, and increasing interdisciplinary collaborations between physical geographers and other earth and environmental scientists who have other target journals. Moreover, consider that AAG has two journals, the Annals and Professional Geographer, whereas the ESA now publishes six, and the AGU an astounding twenty-two journals.

Physical geographers naturally want their work read, and cited, by others in their specific research areas – and geologists, hydrologists, ecologists, climatologists, etc. don’t tend to read the Annals or Professional Geographer. The key issue is audience. Geography journals are broad, encompassing multiple subdisciplines, unlike AGU’s specifically targeted journals. AGU has managed to find a way to provide both depth and specialization (in specific journals and membership sections) as well as interdisciplinarity (in the very large annual conference). Another important issue is turnaround time. For many journals in the earth sciences, articles can appear online within three or four months of submission; the Annals takes much longer.

Beyond these, impact factors (IF) may also make a difference, given how much metrics have been made to matter in academia these days. Though the impact factor of the Annals is quite high for Geography (3.3 in 2019, 4.68 in 2020), as is that of Progress in Physical Geography (3.488), the impact factors of journals in other disciplines are comparable, or in some cases higher due in part to the size of the fields. For example, the 2020 IF for the AGU journal Geophysical Research Letters was 4.72 and Water Resources Research’s was 5.24. The ESA’s Ecology has an IF of 5.5; American Meteorological Society’s Journal of Climate has an IF of 5.7 and its Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society an IF of 9.834.

…in many departments, retiring climatologists, geomorphologists, and biogeographers have been replaced by new faculty whose training is from other disciplines with their own strong identities. Without these more senior physical geographers as mentors or models, an identification with Geography as a discipline is likely to become ever more dissipated.

In addition to these issues, though, there is also a tension within physical geography between those — more often geographers trained in Geography departments — who embrace the more holistic dimensions of the discipline, and those who are frustrated that this holistic perspective may disadvantage them in the eyes of geoscientists who see such an approach as less “rigorous.” Related is also a tension between geography’s field-based tradition and broader trends towards a greater emphasis on numerical modeling. Of note too is that in many departments, retiring climatologists, geomorphologists, and biogeographers have been replaced by new faculty whose training is from other disciplines with their own strong identities. Without these more senior physical geographers as mentors or models, an identification with Geography as a discipline is likely to become ever more dissipated.

I don’t think any of this is a problem for individual geographers or even for departments.  My concern is with what else AAG as an organization could be doing for physical geographers. What would make it worth it to physical geographers to join the AAG, itself a way to continually sustain our broader academic community around our holistic, undisciplined discipline? How do we achieve a healthy balance of the centrifugal forces that pull physical geographers into the orbit of other disciplines with the centripetal force that keeps us together as geographers? After all, many of my physical geography colleagues, even if their degrees were not in Geography (as mine too, were not), do really appreciate the holistic nature of the discipline. And, are graduates in physical geography from Geography departments going on to be hired as faculty members in other Geography departments? If not, what might facilitate that?

There are clearly no easy answers, but here are a few ideas, which I’ve formulated with the help of several physical geography colleagues.

First, the advent of the Special Issues of the Annals since 2009, seems to me to be a very positive development given that the themes have been capacious enough for contributions from the whole range of subspecialities within geography. Such holistic and integrative perspectives are very much geography’s strengths. Perhaps highlighting these special issues to colleagues in other Earth System Science fields would be one productive measure, especially as Earth System Sciences also slowly opens up to more consideration of human dimensions.

Second, there are many ways that AAG as an organization could strengthen its appeal to physical geographers. More recognition for early career faculty as well as students in physical geography could be helpful, for example through early career awards and paper awards. These would have to be not just granted, but also advertised widely to physical geographers in a variety of institutional locations. Addressing the relative absence of postdoctoral fellowships in Geography compared to other departments associated with Earth Systems Scientists is also important. Keynote addresses and high-profile events at AAG meetings, whether in person or virtual, regional or national, could also help increase interest. Finding ways to reinvigorate key AAG specialty groups in physical geography is also important. AAG could sponsor workshops for graduate students and early career faculty on grant proposal writing. Moreover, AAG could be well-situated to help geoscientists tackle issues of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion, given Geography’s integration of human geographic expertise on such issues together with the geosciences.  Finally, training sessions or other initiatives focused on topics such as highlighting women physical geographers or tools for addressing racial inequities in geoscience could help raise AAG’s profile.

I offer these suggestions cognizant that I’m not a physical geographer, so I stand to be corrected if any of what I’ve written here seems off. I look forward to hearing your thoughts and suggestions.

DOI: 10.14433/2017.0095

Sources

Aspinall, Richard. 2010. “A century of physical geography research in the Annals.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 100(5): 1049-1059.

 

Harrison, Stephan, Doreen Massey, Keith Richards, Francis Magilligan, Nigel Thrift, and

Barbara Bender. 2004. “Thinking across the divide: perspectives on the conversations

between physical and human geography.” Area 36(4): 435-442.

 

Marcus, Melvin. 1979. “Coming full circle: Physical geography in the twentieth century.”

Annals of the Association of American Geographers 69(4): 521-532.

 

Rhoads, Bruce L. 2004. “Whither physical geography?” Annals of the Association of American

Geographers 94(4): 748-755.

 


Please note: The ideas expressed in the AAG President’s column are not necessarily the views of the AAG as a whole. This column is traditionally a space in which the president may talk about their views or focus during their tenure as president of AAG, or spotlight their areas of professional work. Please feel free to email the president directly at emily [dot] yeh [at] colorado [dot] edu to enable a constructive discussion. 

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A Good Day for Geography, Every Day

The late Will Graf would end his AAG President’s columns with this optimistic affirmation: It’s a good day for Geography. Given the last year, you might be surprised to hear that it is just as true today as it was during his tenure in 1998-99. Let me explain.

As I write this, it is the one-year anniversary of our official announcement canceling the AAG Annual Meeting in Denver. I will never forget that week or that gut-wrenching decision. The AAG meeting was one of the first big academic meetings of the year, and the crisis was escalating quickly. I am sure that I was not the only one waking up in the middle of the night and checking the latest statistics and news. Increasingly, it seemed that we would have to cancel, yet more than 6500 members had registered, and the AAG had not canceled a meeting since WWII.

As the Executive Committee sat in the conference room in San Diego and voted to cancel the in-person meeting, it was just 30 days before the event. Since the AAG had been investing in a virtual platform for months, we knew we could offer a virtual meeting, though 30 days was not much time to prepare. We decided to give full refunds and make the virtual meeting free for anyone already registered. Of course, this was the only fair decision, but it was also consequential for the organization, both culturally and financially. We also knew that membership was likely to dip significantly, but we had no idea how much or how long it might take to rebound. So, we budgeted for up to 50% losses in membership and took a pessimistic view of the current fiscal year. This time last year, the AAG was looking into a fiscal abyss, but I am pleased to report that the AAG has weathered this financial storm very well.

With the losses from the meeting, we expected to take a loss in FYE20, and we did: Official losses were $2M. This figure does not include additional spending that occurred as a result of the COVID-19 Rapid Response program. In total, $900k was approved from reserves to fund nine programs.  For example, our support for students included Bridging the Digital Divide, providing direct funds to purchase hardware and software for students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Tribal Colleges and Universities. These programs are meant to help members cope with the economic challenges of the pandemic.

After the initial FYE21 budget was approved in April 2020, the AAG Council re-convened in June 2020 to adopt a new budget. The first draft of the revised budget projected a loss of $1.5M due to loss of membership and projections for the Annual Meeting with reduced attendance. To offset these projected losses, we reduced expenses by $846k, with the other half being approved from reserves. This approach cut nearly all expenses except for staff. Remarkably, we expect to end the year without the need for any reserves, ending in positive territory, even without considering revenue from investments.

While AAG has experienced a 19% loss in membership year over year during the pandemic, this is far lower than the feared 50% loss. Three out of four of our lost members are either graduate students or members making under $75k per year. Therefore, Council has expanded eligibility for membership renewal fee coverage to all those making less than $75k and expanded the membership window for qualifying to two years. The job market appears to be recovering: Between March 1, 2019 and 2020, job postings at AAG dropped 38%. Postings have rebounded in 2021, and are now up 31%, suggesting at least some postings were merely delayed in the early pandemic.

The whole world turned upside down in the last year, and none of us are untouched. And still, it’s a good day for Geography.

The AAG has managed to get through a pandemic with surprising ease. To be sure, there are serious challenges ahead and much work to do. However, there is also reason to expect tomorrow will be a better day. Our work to replace our membership database and website is moving forward. On April 7th, we offered members the first preview of the site, and the full site is expected to launch in early summer. (We are welcoming feedback from members about a new tagline; share your ideas for a new tagline here). Together these new systems will open up greater possibilities for membership retention and a range of new and improved services. Multi-year membership, automatic renewals, tagged content, and much more will be possible. We continue to invest in creative, more inclusive approaches to meeting, including a climate-forward dispersed-meeting model for a new fall meeting, and a hybrid meeting that blends the best possible options for international virtual access and in-person convening in New York City.

Nearly two-thirds of graduate students in the AAG Methods workshops found the interactions highly valuable.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the last year is how popular our online seminars have been. In February, we kicked off a GeoEthics series, bringing together experts to talk about locational ethics. We also offered methods training workshops that have connected more than a thousand graduate students to a whole range of experts to discuss research challenges and solutions—and to one another at a time when peer support was also important. In all these cases, we showcase our membership’s expertise, connecting our members to it and each other. Traditionally, we might offer all these things only at the Annual Meeting. However, online platforms allow us to share year-round, to feature topics and presenters that reflect the AAG we want for the future. With minimal new expenses, we can showcase the expertise of our members while connecting and building community.

All respondents to the survey on AAG Methods workshops found resources helpful; nearly two-thirds found them very or extremely helpful.

If you attended any of these sessions, you know that it really matters to attendees. Three hundred people were on one three-hour session, engaged and eager for more. Students shed tears as they connected to methods experts and one another, gaining access and answers they needed during the pandemic. More to come on this experiment, but it gives me hope. During the troubling days and nights this past year, one thing kept coming back to me. Even as the pandemic loomed over all aspects of our personal and professional lives, we still found the energy, funding, and resolve to launch the COVID Rapid Response programs and to support one another. We put the members and our community first.

The whole world turned upside down in the last year, and none of us are untouched. And still, it’s a good day for Geography.

DOI: 10.14433/2017.0090


Please note: The ideas expressed by Executive Director Gary Langham are not necessarily the views of the AAG as a whole. Please feel free to email him at glangham [at] aag [dot] org.

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Robert Thomas Kuhlken

Robert Thomas Kuhlken, retired professor of geography and former geography department chair at Central Washington University, died on January 1, 2021. He was 67.

Kuhlken was a lifelong scholar, educator, and tireless observer of the natural world. He was more comfortable outdoors than in, and always eager to explore new terrain. He studied at the University of Virginia at Wise and Oregon State University and was awarded a Fulbright fellowship to study agricultural terracing in the Fiji Islands while earning his doctoral degree in geography from Louisiana State University.

His specialization in human geography and his focus on land management fit perfectly with his desire to learn and explore. He favored traveling via public transportation on excursions throughout Mexico, South America, Polynesia, New Zealand, and Europe to get an unfiltered view of the local culture.

Kuhlken brought the results of these travels to the classroom, sharing his firsthand experience with his students. He taught college geography for more than three decades, spending most of his career at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Washington, where he retired in 2015 as professor emeritus in geography.

He taught thousands of students at CWU. Countless first-year students with little knowledge of the rest of the world were captivated by Kuhlken’s enthusiastic spirit of adventure, his colorful stories, and deep insights into human and physical landscapes across the globe.

Kuhlken also taught courses focused on cultural geography, Oceania and North America, and urban and regional planning. His planning courses drew, in part, on his nearly 10 years of experience as a professional planner in Oregon before beginning his academic career. Quite a few of his students have gone on to successful careers as planners themselves.

As a scholar, Kuhlken’s work emphasized cultural ecology, historical geography, and environmental literature. He co-authored A Rediscovered Frontier: Land Use and Resource Issues in the New West which Rowman & Littlefield published in 2006.

He also published on topics as varied as Pacific archeology, zydeco music, and arson. In more recent years, his passion for fishing led to new scholarship on the geography of recreational fishing and the sport of angling.

More than anything, Kuhlken loved to be outdoors with friends and family—hiking, fishing, sailing, biking, gardening or just feeding the birds in the backyard. In remembrance, please donate to the National Park of your choice.

He is survived by his wife, Cynthia McGill Kuhlken; his stepson, Jeff Acker; and his brothers William Kuhlken, Kevin Kuhlken, and Karl Kuhlken.

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